Under-eye swelling or puffiness is a common cosmetic concern. You usually don’t need treatment. However, in some cases, swelling beneath your eyes may also be a sign of a minor or more serious health condition.
Under-eye “bags” might just run in your family. Aging and genetics can cause tissues around the eyes to weaken. This leads to fat moving into the lower eyelids, making them look swollen. The skin around your eyes is very thin and delicate.
If you do have a health issue, treating the underlying problem can help smooth your eye area. Here are 10 causes of under-eye swelling and what you can do to prevent and treat them.
Too much salt or sodium in your diet is not good for your body or your appearance. Extra sodium can make your body retain water. The excess water causes puffiness in the face and body. This is especially common the morning after a salty meal.
The thin skin around your eyes is at higher risk of getting puffy. This leads to under-eye swelling or the appearance of under-eye “bags.” Your body will naturally get rid of the bloating and de-puff your eye area. This may take a few hours or longer.
Cut salt in your daily diet to help soothe under-eye swelling. Limit or avoid processed and packaged foods that have added salts. Drink plenty of water to help flush out the sodium.
Eating foods high in potassium also helps counter the salt. These include:
- dried apricots
The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt a day. Most Americans eat more than double that amount of sodium every day.
Crying causes fluid to collect around your eyes, causing puffiness for a short time. Under-eye swelling that happens once in a while will likely go away on its own.
A lack of sleep can weaken the muscles around your eyes. It can also lead to a loss of collagen — the elastic tissue — under the eyes. This causes fluid to collect in the area, making the area beneath your eyes to swell up.
Under-eye swelling because of little sleep may last a few hours to 24 hours. Some signs can become permanent if you regularly have poor sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Allergies can cause fluid to build up in your sinuses and around your eyes. This can lead to under-eye swelling. An allergic reaction can also make your eyes red, itchy, and watery. Common eye allergies include:
- animal fur
Allergies are a common cause of puffy eyes. This happens because protective cells in your eyes, called mast cells, give off immune proteins called histamine to fight allergens. This makes your eyes sensitive and watery. Your eyes will also tear up to wash out the pollen or other allergen.
Eye allergies are also easy to treat. Avoid allergens as much as possible to help prevent symptoms. Washing out your nose and using artificial tear eye drops to rinse your eyes also helps. Over-the-counter medications can help ease under-eye swelling. Try:
- antihistamines (Claritin, Benadryl)
- decongestants (Sudafed, Afrin)
- eye drops (Visine, Alaway)
Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid or an allergy shot to make you less sensitive to the allergen.
Smoking cigarettes, shisha, or cigars can irritate your eyes. You may also have an allergic reaction if you’re around secondhand and even thirdhand smoke. This can make your eyes water triggering under-eye swelling.
Quit smoking of any kind and avoid secondhand smoke to help prevent eye puffiness and other symptoms. Clean surfaces and items in your home and car if you’re sensitive to leftover smoke particles. Wash your hair and clothing after being around people who smoke.
An eye infection can cause under-eye swelling in one or both eyes. You can have an infection in the eye or eyelid. The infection and swelling will usually happen in one eye first, but can quickly spread to the other eye.
Avoid touching or rubbing your eye. An eye infection usually goes away within a week. You may need antibiotic treatment.
Types of eye infections that can cause under-eye swelling include:
- Pink eye. Also known as conjunctivitis, this infection may be caused by bacteria, a virus, chemicals, and other irritants. Pink eye can happen at any age.
- Stye. A stye is an infection in an eyelash follicle or a tear gland. It usually begins as a tiny small bump along your lash line. A stye can lead to redness, swelling, and pus in the eye or eyelid.
- Chalazion. A chalazion is similar to a stye. It’s caused by a blocked oil gland in your eyelid. A chalazion usually looks like a small bump on the eyelid. It can lead to swelling if it gets infected.
- Periorbital cellulitis. This infection or inflammation around your eye usually spreads from the sinuses. It can also happen from a scratch or injury to the eyelid, and often requires medical attention.
You can relieve swelling and tenderness around your eye with a damp, clean towel. If you think you have an infection, see your doctor immediately. You may need antibiotics or other treatments to soothe the pressure.
Your tear ducts drain away tears and natural water in the eye. If they’re blocked, the fluid may collect around the eye. This can lead to under-eye swelling.
A blocked tear duct is common in babies, but it can happen in children and adults too. A blockage can happen due to an infection, makeup particles, or an injury to the eye. In most cases, it clears up on its own after a few days.
Normally, a warm compress and washing out the eye with sterile saline helps clear the blockage. In more serious cases, you may need treatment. In adults a blocked tear duct can sometimes happen because of a tumor.
Signs and symptoms of a blocked tear duct include:
- excess tearing or watery eyes
- blurred vision
- eye infection or inflammation
- pus or mucus
A small scratch or nick around the eye can happen from a fingernail or a makeup brush. An injury can lead to under-eye swelling as your body heals the thin, soft skin in the eye area.
Getting hit on or around the eye can also cause puffiness. A blow from a punch or a dull object causes the eye to move down slightly and then back in place. This brings blood rushing into the area. The blood and fluid triggers swelling or bruising beneath the eye.
Graves’ disease is also called thyroid eye disease. It happens when your thyroid gland does not balance thyroid hormones. Graves’ disease can also sometimes happen if you take too much thyroid medication. You will need treatment immediately. Your doctor may recommend medications or other treatment.
About 30 percent of people with this condition will have eye symptoms. These include bulging eyes and under-eye swelling. This happens because Graves’ disease causes changes in the tissue around the eyes. Other eye signs and symptoms include:
- gritty sensation
- pain or pressure
- light sensitivity
- double vision
- blurred vision or vision loss
Eye and vision changes, including under-eye swelling, may be a sign of mononucleosis. This infection is sometimes called the “kissing disease,” but you can also catch it from sneezes and coughs. Eye symptoms include:
- seeing “floaters”
Mononucleosis is caused by a virus. Antibiotics won’t help to treat it. Signs and symptoms of this condition include:
- sore throat
- swollen tonsils
- swelling in neck and armpits
- skin rash
In most cases under-eye swelling goes away on its own. Whether or not you need treatment depends on the cause. Your doctor may prescribe treatment such as:
- anti-allergy medication
- antibiotic or antiviral medication
- antibacterial ointment
- antibacterial eye drops
- steroid eye drops
You can soothe your under-eye area in most cases. Try one of these home remedies to help your eyes bounce back after a late night, salty meal, or a bout of crying:
- Cold compress. Apply a clean, wet washcloth to your eye area. Or chill a spoon in the fridge and use the back of the spoon to gently massage the area. You can also keep your eye cream or serum in the fridge and apply as a cooling gel.
- Tea bags. Tea contains caffeine, which may help draw water out of your under-eye area and bring down swelling. Try soaking two tea bags in cold water. Place them over your closed eyes and lay back for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Facial massage. Use your fingers or a cold metal facial roller to massage your face. Gently massage or tap around your eyes and sinuses to help drain away extra fluid.
See your doctor if you have swelling around your eyes that doesn’t go away after 24 to 48 hours.
A mild eye infection can go away on its own. It’s important to have it checked in case it’s more serious. An infection can cause complications in your eye if left untreated.
Get immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of an eye infection or other health condition. These include:
- white fluid or pus
- swelling in only one eye
- blurry vision
- loss of vision
- eye bulging
- watery eyes
- weight loss
Under-eye swelling is normal. It typically goes away without treatment. See your doctor if you have under-eye swelling that does not go away, or other symptoms. Early treatment is important to prevent damage to your eyes.